A recent joint report by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) summarized innovation and patent trends in the hydrogen economy.
The analysis, which is based on global patent activity since 2001, aims to inform businesses and policymakers about the hydrogen value chain’s apparent advancements and potential bottlenecks. In order to try and help focus future innovation efforts, the study delves deeply into particular technologies, names the most active applicants in particular areas, and tries to determine the influence of various government programs in particular industries.
The report examines patent activity at the first three phases of the hydrogen value chain, which are as follows:
- Technologies that make it easier or less expensive to separate hydrogen from water and create low-emission hydrogen from fossil fuels and biomass;
- Technology that make it easier to use hydrogen at a different time or place than when it is produced include storage, delivery, and transformation; and
- Applications that use hydrogen to produce goods or provide energy are known as end-use applications.
The study examines the diversification of innovation within each stage by classifying technologies into two groups: I existing hydrogen technologies already used in the industry; and (ii) newly-emerging hydrogen technologies driven by environmental concerns.
Production of hydrogen has experienced the most global patent activity of the three initial stages. Technology is moving toward producing hydrogen using electrolysis in facilities that burn fossil fuels with low CO2 emissions. According to the paper, the opportunity to utilize existing infrastructure may make developing novel methods for producing hydrogen from natural gas more appealing and practical.
The established distribution infrastructure technologies have led to a lot of patenting activity at the stage of storage, distribution, and transportation. The data shows that patenting in these areas peaked in 2011, despite the fact that converting hydrogen into synthetic fuels or other hydrogen carriers might assist extensive distribution of hydrogen, even penetration into hard-to-reach sectors.
According to the research, end-use applications in the shipping, aviation, and automotive industries have also seen a lot of patent activity. For instance, the research points out that fuel cell innovation in the automotive and aviation sectors was responsible for the significant growth in worldwide patent families in the transportation industry. Also, as equipment manufacturers become more interested in using low-emission hydrogen to lessen dependency on fossil fuels during these energy-intensive industrial processes, innovation connected to the use of hydrogen in the manufacturing of methanol and ammonia has increased.
Future patent holders, applicants, and hydrogen economy participants will be better able to capitalize on their technologies and efforts thanks to the study’s findings. For instance, well-established business entities can use this data as a starting point to find untapped potential for R&D. Startup companies can utilize this data to gain an advantage in license talks by reaping the rewards of intricate connections to other nodes in the value chain. The position of patent holders and applicants, as well as other market participants, should be understood in order to make the most of their position.